So, you’re cutting out carbs – great! Whether diagnosed with celiac disease or simply adjusting your eating habits, reducing carbohydrates you eat every day may be helpful for many people’s long-term health goals. However, the restaurant industry has a bit of a love affair with carb-loaded foods, which can make it tough to dine out with friends and still stick to your plan.
Luckily, it’s not impossible to avoid carbs in restaurants. This is thanks in no small part to chefs recognizing the need to offer alternatives to the pasta/bread/rice fare. If you want to stay away from carbs, you just need to have a game plan when it comes to ordering!
First, scan the menu. Often menus will have “lite” or healthier options labelled as such, which may include low-carb options. Double check what comes with each lite menu item (a dish with no bread or pasta may still have other ingredients high in sugar or fat), but generally those sections of the menu will have far less focus on starch. See if the menu includes pasta substitutes like zucchini ribbons. Some menus will also use icons to indicate gluten-free or low-carb items, so check for a key at the bottom or side of the page.
Looking for substitute options for sides? Most restaurants will allow you to switch out your entrée’s starchy side for a vegetable, perhaps with a nominal charge. That’s a great way to still enjoy the protein component of an entree while avoiding the carbs in potatoes, pasta salad, rice, and other common sides.
In general, it’s smart to check out the menu online in advance of your visit. Getting a good look at the healthy options available while you’re deciding where to eat can be a smart way to make healthy choices and accommodate friends and family with particular concerns. If you’re reviewing two different restaurants and one of them has far more carb-lite options, that could be the deciding vote in picking one over the other.
Come in with a game plan tailored to the kind of restaurant it is. If you’re trying to avoid carbs in an Italian restaurant, why not order an antipasti platter and go for a salad for your entrée (light on the croutons, of course)? If you’re going to order a salad, ask for the dressing on the side – dressings can be high in sugar and putting it on yourself avoids overdressing from the cook. Watch out for breaded proteins (go grilled or braised instead!) and avoid thick, cream-based sauces that could include cornstarch or a roux.
Keep your eyes open for lettuce wraps instead of tortilla wraps in Mexican restaurants (and ask for your favorite salad without the taco shell bowl), or opt for summer rolls made from lettuce instead of the traditional version made with rice paper or egg rolls in Asian restaurants.
If you love sushi but don’t want the rice, maybe order sashimi instead. Any soups that don’t include pasta or rice (like Hot and Sour soup) can also make for a good side. And look for “bowl” options that have everything in the main dish, but takes out the pasta or tortillas.
Of course, another way to control your carbs is to head to the buffet or salad bar! Most carb-heavy items will be easily identifiable, like rolls, pasta, rice, and breaded meats, and you can easily pick and choose the food that fit your lifestyle. Ask your server about the ingredients for any sauces on the buffet if you are concerned cornstarch or a roux was used to thicken them. Generally, tomato-based or clear sauces will have less carbs overall.
When it comes to your drink, water is the best way to go. Not only is keeping hydrated important, but it eliminates the question of carbs and sugars that may arise with soda, juice, and iced tea. If you want something with alcohol, however, wine is an option with less carbs per ounce than beer.
The trickiest part for those looking to keep their palate carb-free is often ordering dessert. After all, restaurant desserts tend to be cakes, pies, and bread puddings — and more cakes. Sorbets can be a nice alternative to that traditional fare, as can custards and crème brûlées.
Even an elegant bowl of seasonal berries with whipped cream can be a delight for your taste buds without so much as a hint of flour. These desserts all still have some sugar in them, but they won’t blow your blood sugar up like a triple chocolate cake will! And of course, coffee, espresso, or cappuccino are often available for those who want to end their meal on a lighter note.
One of the most important things to remember is that unless you have a specific health concern, healthy dining is not just about avoiding carbs. There are plenty of other ways to empower your diet, in moderation, that will make for a stronger and more confident you.
It’s fine to focus on cutting out carbs, but replacing those carbs with tons of sodium and fatty foods can also be a problem, depending on your specific concerns. Try to balance all these elements when you go out to eat so that you can be confident you’re making healthy choices and enjoying yourself at the same time.
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